by Joseph Chirico
The film begins with a bang, and lots of fire. Sort of like most of Michael Bay’s films. Yet, this fire is smaller and more controlled. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) hobbles out of his home on his bum leg, only to see his barn on fire. Dan and his son, William (Logan Lerman), attempt to save their belongings in the barn, but everything is already lost. This father and son then set out on a journey that will challenge and change them dramatically.
That’s a hell of a way to start a film. We immediately see Dan suffering a great loss. As the story progresses, we see how much more he has lost in his life. His son’s respect, his wife’s love, and, soon, his land. Dan is an honest man who wants to give his family a better life; or at least a life at all. He’s only one of the many great characters in this film, though.
One of the elements that make 3:10 to Yuma such an amazing movie is that it is character driven through and through. Director James Mangold accomplished something special with this film. He has so many great actors and actresses, and many of them are only on screen for short amounts of time with minimal lines. Those individuals pull off an amazing feat by making us understand and care about their characters and situations within such short periods. We’re given these snapshots of characters’ lives, such as the barkeep in Bisbee, Emma Nelson (Vinessa Shaw). Shaw gives a short and sweet performance that you remember after the film continues. Maybe it’s also because she’s gorgeous. Dan’s wife, Alice (Gretchen Mol), reveals her situation and feelings about her life mainly through her facial expressions; she had hardly any lines. As Alice tucks her children in for bed, she can’t hide the sorrow and distress on her face. This actress captured that essence perfectly.
The other minor character I have to mention is Doc Potter, played by the insanely talented Alan Tudyk. Mangold mentions in the DVD commentary that Tudyk only has about twenty-two lines in the entire film. Within that time, Tudyk allows us to understand that he is a good man, who knows the difference between right and wrong. He’s quiet and not much of a fighter, but when it comes time for him to save the day, and he does, Tudyk shines above all others.
After Potter hits one of the posse members with a shovel and allows the group to escape, he is shot in the back and dies on the side of the road. It’s one of the saddest moments in the film, because we’ve become invested in his character; we care about him. The audience knows he deserved better than this. Tudyk accomplished all of this with twenty-two lines. That’s acting.
Now, I mentioned that Dan and William were going on a journey together, but they were not the only father and son duo. Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and Charlie Prince (Ben Foster) had a similar relationship. Charlie is insanely loyal to Ben, and this is clear throughout the film. Once Ben is captured, Charlie chases after him and his captors, killing everyone in his way. I always saw Charlie as a man attempting to save his best friend who was in trouble. How can anyone blame him for that? The director also points out that Ben is like a father figure to Charlie. Both are equally intriguing and give Charlie a good reason for doing what he does in this movie.
Ben Foster’s performance in the film is so amazing; I don’t even know how to describe it. He plays a bad guy so casually, which is what makes it so damn awesome. All I can say is go see the film and experience it yourself. Yes, it’s an experience. Charlie Prince’s outfit even looked incredible. The tan leather jacket and orange pants with two Schofield pistols holstered backward at his hips. Epic. Look at this poster.
Arianne Phillips, the costume designer, stated that she had a lot of fun creating Charlie’s outfit. She said Charlie Prince was like the Keith Richards to Ben Wade’s Mick Jaggar.
Anyway, over to Ben Wade. He appears to be growing tired of his gang; they have the attitude like a gang of wild dogs. He does not even partake in robbing the stagecoach early in the film. He steps in at the end, but his boredom is growing. He even asks the beautiful bartender, Emma, to run away with him, and, despite her calling him crazy, he is serious. This is an interesting way to present a super-criminal, as the director refers to him. What complicates his character is that, even as a criminal, he is not all evil. Mangold was smart in constructing the character in this way. Ben Wade cannot be clearly designated as the villain, the antagonist; neither can Charlie Prince for that matter. They do bad things, but not without reason.
I can’t imagine many bad guys throughout history ever saying: “Yeah, I’m a villain.” They saw many things happening around them as villainous deeds that directly affected them. This notion is lost because not many people think about the viewpoint of the “bad guy.” The truth is, villains are not all bad, and when they are presented with more depth, such as in this movie, it makes for a more believable and thought-provoking story. Yet, a complicated villain with complex ideals frightens people. They want to believe everything is black and white, good and evil. That simplistic mindset limits the power and richness a story can possess.
Let’s jump into the gray area people. That’s where the real world exists.
Crowe pulls off this role brilliantly. We can see he is dangerous, but he is also not a horrible person. There is a moment where he could have killed all of his captors, but he walks away instead. He even allows Dan the chance to redeem himself in the eyes of his son, which is one of the most admirable moments of the film and of Crowe’s character in general.
The movie is a remake, and, unfortunately, I have not seen the original and cannot comment on it. I have read the short story by Elmore Leonard, though, and am amazed at how many elements of the story they used. (Note: The characters go by different names in the short story, but I’ll use the film’s character names to limit confusion.) There are, of course, some minor changes. For instance, Dan is a marshal, and he and Ben Wade are in their late twenties.
The short story begins with the characters entering the town where the train will be arriving in a matter of hours. The tale proceeds to show Dan Evans and Ben Wade waiting for the train and what goes on between them in those slow, dwindling hours. James Mangold created the story of the journey to that point, which is fantastic. There is mention in the story of the use of a decoy carriage (like in the film) that was supposed to throw off Ben Wade’s gang.
Marco Beltrami composed a phenomenal soundtrack for the film. The music flows along with the action, becoming quiet or more intense as the movie progresses. It’s one of the greatest western soundtracks I’ve ever heard and the final track entitled “The 3:10 to Yuma” is simply amazing. The character of Charlie Prince is even featured on the cover of the album.
Look, there are so many awesome things to say about this film, and I don’t think I covered half of it. Many of the background details about the movie are explained in the great set of special features. James Mangold provides a fantastic DVD commentary; one of the best I’ve ever listened to. As a writer, it’s always cool to hear other people discuss what they were attempting to do in a story, and he really sits down and explains it all. There are also some videos of historical aspects of the west, deleted scenes, and a twenty-minute documentary of making the film.
Unfortunately, the western is a dying genre; they had quite a lot of difficulty in getting this made. Hopefully, this adaptation displays why those opinions should change – why shouldn’t they, this movie is great in so many different ways. The movie is filled with extraordinary characters, acting, sets, music, and much more. What else can I say? This film is sweet, sweet Mangold.
I give this 5 out of 5 Mangolds.